To find that one friend who takes you at face value, who hangs on your every word — someone who frequently looks to you for guidance — is a special moment in life.
And if the early beginning of the Ags United Intramural Sports program at UC Davis is an indication, there are lifelong bonds being fashioned this holiday season.
A partnership of Campus Recreation and Unions and Team Davis, the new alliance is expected to enrich the lives of special-needs adults from throughout the region.
For the Aggies involved, in addition to a new pal who gives unconditional love, these outings are a great way to relieve stress, get some exercise and discover a whole new world.
So far, so good …
Last month, Team Davis members joined with UCD students in a soccer doubleheader that had all the drama of a legitimate sporting event.
“The teams were evenly matched and engaged in a bit more than just friendly competition,” said Heather Zoller of Campus Recreation and Unions.
Team Davis player Matt Ibele scored the tying tally in one of the contests; a dramatic goal late:
“Matt scored the tying goal at the buzzer. At the buzzer!” teammate Aaron Mahon beamed afterward.
Dramatic, competitive, fun for all 30 participants and it was a harbinger of great things ahead.
“The plan is to integrate both populations (UCD students and special-needs adults) together,” explains Zoller, the senior assistant director of wellness. “We want to knock down any pre-conceived notions, develop real friendships.”
Part of a formal contract between the university and Team Davis, Ags United is modeled after a program initiated several years ago by Campus Recreation and Unions Director of Recreation Laura Hall and Team Davis Director Robin Dewey.
While UCD has hosted several Special Olympics meets, Hall and Dewey brought the Intercollegiate Athletic Department into a series of clinics and outings for members of Team Davis.
Zoller says Ags United is just the beginning.
Unified Sports — part of a national Special Olympics outreach idea — has morphed into Ags United here and will be the host of a basketball event in January and clinics like the annual one-day camp with the Aggie football team, Zoller reports.
“The basketball might be tournament-style play, more than just one night, and could involve other Special Olympics athletes outside of Davis,” Zoller adds. “It’s still in the developmental stages.”
And like the UCD football clinics, Zoller expects the new on-campus games to involve members of the Aggie basketball teams.
Hall, Dewey and Zoller have seen Campus Recreation and Unions go beyond the courts and playing fields.
Called Workability, this new program started with UCD and Davis and Yolo County school districts and has seen young special-needs adults placed alongside many Aggie student employees in day-to-day jobs.
At the ARC, it’s now common to see Team Davis members standing with UC Davis student body workers checking students in for workouts, handing out exercise equipment and towels and doing other chores.
“A few (Team Davis members) have signed up for gym memberships,” 2003 UCD graduate Zoller says. “Our students are really taking to it and a lot of the special-needs students are having a great time as well.
“We’ve reached out to some of the organizations on campus, so we have the Best Buddies group and the Autism Awareness group (serving) as volunteers as workout partners or job coaches to befriend the students and provide leadership.”
So, with Hall and Dewey working to elevate the self-sufficiency and worldliness of the special-needs community, sports has once again become a starting point for new relationships.
And the excitement of that November night on the soccer pitch at the Dairy Outdoor Recreation Complex is spreading.
UCD student Daniel Walker, who works at the ARC, explains why he volunteered in the soccer games:
“I wanted to help give back. We don’t get to do this very often, so I jumped at the opportunity.”
Walker says he’ll “definitely come back” for the basketball games.
“Many of the players echoed these sentiments,” Zoller explains. “We believe that by bringing people — with and without disabilities — together to play a common sport, we will create an environment that … promotes friendships and understanding.”
Notes: Find out more about Team Davis by visiting www.team-davis.org. For more information about Campus Recreation and Unions, go to www.daviscru.com. … Zoller is a Washington native who majored in sociology with a Spanish minor. Her position is new this month, but the Davis resident previously spent more than five years with Campus Events. … Zoller says the regional Special Olympics will return to campus in May; a date has not been announced.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.